Technology

Gadget Appeal

1/10/2011 12:01 AM Eastern

Las Vegas — Cable operators are suddenly googly-eyed over tablets,
Internet TVs and other video devices.

They’re trying to fling TV programming to as many screens as they
can possibly reach, because if they don’t, a growing horde of over-the-top
challengers — Netflix, Apple, Google and Sony, to name a few — is
rising to challenge the pay TV incumbents.

At last week’s 2011 International Consumer Electronics Show, a dizzying
galaxy of tablets, smartphones and TV-connected gizmos were
on display. At the event, exhibitors announced more than 20,000 new products, according
to trade show organizers.

MCN cover image Jan, 10, 2011While Wall Street frets over the new Internet-video upstarts, pay TV providers signaled
that they were jumping into the over-the-top fray themselves like never before.

In what may set the stage for a broader industry movement, Time Warner Cable will
deliver its entire video-programming lineup to customers with Sony’s Internet-connected
Bravia HDTVs this year, the companies announced last week.

TWC customers with certain broadband-connected Bravia TVs will be able to access programming,
delivered over Internet protocol “without the need for a set-top,” Phil Molyneux,
president of Sony Electronics USA, said at a press conference last Wednesday (Jan. 6).

A Time Warner Cable spokesman said the MSO expects to deliver the capability for
Sony HDTVs in 2011 but otherwise is not providing technical details on how the feature
will be delivered. TWC had reportedly begun testing out Microsoft’s Mediaroom IPTV
platform in its Los Angeles system last year.

At press time, Comcast and Time Warner Cable were scheduled to make a similar programming
announcement.

KEEPING ‘FRENEMIES’ CLOSE

Cable operators face a difficult choice in partnering with such “frenemies,” since their
biggest competitive threats can come from their consumer-electronics partners.

Sony, for one, is looking to trump the likes of TWC and Comcast with its own smorgasbord
of content offerings.

Pointing to Sony’s opportunity to deliver content over the Internet to devices, president
and CEO Sir Howard Stringer last week at CES said that by March 2011, the company will
have sold more than 50 million Internet-enabled TVs, Blu-ray Disc players and PlayStation
3 consoles. It also has 60 million registered accounts for the PlayStation Network.

Sony’s Internet-connected devices provide “well beyond the content offered by cable
and satellite companies,” Stringer said.

This year, Sony plans to expand its Internet video-
on-demand service, Qriocity (pronounced
“curiosity”), and will roll out Music Unlimited, a
multiplatform music service with 6 million songs
from all major labels, in the U.S. in 2011. Sony’s
Internet-connected HDTVs already provide access
to Netflix, Pandora, Hulu Plus, Amazon Video on
Demand and YouTube.

To promote its Internet-connected devices, which
include a Google TV-based HDTV and Blu-ray player,
Sony will debut an ad campaign this year with
the tagline “Television Redefi ned: Sony Internet TV.”

And Samsung, too, is building out the content and
advertising capabilities for its “Smart TVs.” Th rough
a partnership with Rovi, the CE maker added “Your
Video” personalized movie-recommendation and
search portal to provide users with information, images
and rich multimedia content on their favorite
TV programs, movies, DVD and videos.

Meanwhile, a new strategy from Yahoo cuts
pay TV providers out of the equation for advanced interactivity.

The Internet company is working with cable and broadcast programmers and advertisers
including ABC, CBS, HSN, Showtime Networks and Ford to provide enhanced interactive-
TV features through broadband-connected television sets and other devices.

For example, Showtime Boxing fans could access detailed fight information, including
photos and videos, test their knowledge of the boxers and vote for the boxer they
think will win the match. HSN could let viewers directly purchase an item highlighted
on a live telecast — a capability the shopping network already offers through cable,
satellite and telco affiliates.

The Yahoo initiative, dubbed “broadcast interactivity,” is based on the Yahoo Connected
TV platform, which brings Internet-enhanced content to select TV products. Yahoo is working
with consumer-electronics partners, including Broadcom, D-Link, Haier, MediaTek, Sony
and Toshiba, to enable the broadcast interactivity pilot on their devices in 2011.

Yahoo plans to launch a pilot program in the first half of 2011, and showcased examples
of the broadcast interactivity feature at CES. It said
three major advertisers — Ford, Mattel and Microsoft
— also are planning to work with Yahoo to deliver
interactivity with their TV advertising.

Google has been working with cable programmers
including Turner Broadcasting System, HBO
and CNBC to deliver Internet-based apps on the
Google TV platform, designed to complement their
traditional TV programming. But Google also has
been blocked from playing online video hosted by
major broadcasters, including ABC, CBS, NBC and
Fox, as well as several cable programmers including
Viacom.

STAKING THEIR CLAIM

To stay in the game, pay TV operators realize they
must quickly settle on the Internet-connected
frontier.

Comcast last week said it plans to enable inhome
streaming for live and on-demand content later this year on Apple iPads and Android-powered tablets.
In a release clearly timed for CES, the biggest U.S. cable
operator said that the apps will let customers watch
live news, TV shows and movies in their homes whenever
they want.

Comcast also discussed the play-now capability of
Xfinity TV, which will be available on the iPad in the
coming weeks and will enable the viewing of on-demand
programming on the iPad. The MSO plans to roll out the
new play-now feature, which will allow users of the Xfinity
TV iPad app to watch nearly 3,000 hours of VOD, including
popular movies and hit TV shows, in the home or on the go,
including anywhere there is a wireless connection.

“Live streaming and the playnow
feature on our Xfinity TV app
are two important pieces of our
strategy to deliver any content to
any device, any time,” Comcast
chairman and CEO Brian Roberts
said in announcing the features.
“Comcast has a series of upcoming
online enhancements and app releases
that are part of a much larger
effort to reinvent how customers interact
with their entertainment on
TV, online and on mobile devices.”

For its part, Dish Network announced
that its free application
that lets customers watch live and
recorded TV on compatible smart
phones, tablets and laptops is now
optimized for the higher-pixel Android
tablet screens. Customers
must have a broadband-connected,
Sling-enabled device, such as the
Sling Adapter or ViP 922 HD DVR.

VENDORS PITCH IN

Technology vendors that supply
software and hardware to cable operators
are also gearing up to let MSOs extend their programming
and services to the Web.

Cisco Systems last week laid out a vision to let service
providers blend TV with Web content, personal media
and social-networking, with a software-based architecture
dubbed Videoscape.

“We think the future is going to be about reinventing
the TV,” Cisco chairman and CEO John Chambers said at
a press conference.

The company described Videoscape as a comprehensive
TV platform for service providers that will deliver a
“truly immersive home and mobile video-entertainment
experience.”

Similarly, Technicolor launched MediaNavi, a
multiscreen content platform designed to simplify content
navigation and make it more social. The MediaNavi system
is aimed at both cable, telco and satellite providers, as
well as consumer-electronics manufacturers.

The platform “was developed to bring the real service
power of networks to devices such as tablets, set-top boxes
and mobile devices, enabling consumers to discover new
content, share their discovery with their social network and consume content in a rich and immersive
manner,” Technicolor CEO Frederic
Rose said.

Cisco’s Chambers emphasized that the
Videoscape vision — which ties together
elements across Cisco’s divisions, including
IP set-tops, the umi videoconferencing
system and the Flip camera — is not about
an individual set-top or device, but rather
a software architecture.

“It’s not about devices, in our opinion,
it’s about the intelligence in the network
— it’s a software architectural announcement announcement,”
Chambers said. “The Videoscape
experience is about how you have an infinite source of content — how do you allow
any device, over any network, to [access]
content it’s authorized to get.”

He added that 75% to 80% of Cisco’s
investment in Videoscape is in software.

The Cisco Videoscape platform encompasses
an IP-based media gateway for the
integration of voice, linear and online video,
high-speed data, Wi-Fi and network
traffic routing; the Videoscape IP set-top
box, to support all video forms delivered
to a TV; software clients that extend the
services to a variety of home and mobile
devices, from connected TVs to tablets
and smartphones; and the Videoscape
Media Suite, which provides content lifecycle
management.

Cisco is currently working with several
major global service-provider customers,
including Australian telecommunications
company Telstra, to enable next-generation
video experiences through the Videoscape
platform. According to Chambers, Cisco
plans to make an announcement every
quarter with a service provider about working
on Videoscape deployments.

Ultimately, the idea is to let service providers
counter over-the-top services by
integrating Internet-delivered content
and services seamlessly across multiple
screens.

“The customer will say, ‘I really want to
align with the service provider on this,’ instead of going to five or six different providers,” Chambers said.

3D NETS PUSH CONTENT BUTTONS

LAS VEGAS — Undeterred by disappointing sales last year,
3DTV’s true believers — mostly TV makers and programmers —
came out in force at the 2011 International Consumer Electronics
Show.

In the next few months, fans of the third dimension may be able to
tune in to two full-time 3D channels: 3net, the new name of the joint
venture of Discovery Communications, Sony and IMAX, set to debut
in early 2011; and
ESPN 3D, which will
go to 24-hour operation
on Feb. 14.

Still, the 3net
amigos weren’t
prepared to talk
about carriage
deals yet. And
for now, the vast
majority of ESPN’s
full-time 3D channel
will comprise replays of previous games and events. In February,
for example, the network has currently scheduled live coverage
of just two National Basketball Association games: the Feb. 11 Los
Angeles Lakers-New York Knicks meeting and a Feb. 25 Oklahoma
City Thunder-Orlando Magic matchup.

“As we continue to expand the number of 3D events on the channel,
it made sense operationally to transition ESPN 3D to a 24/7
network,” said Sean Bratches, executive vice president of sales
and marketing for Disney and ESPN Media Networks.

Among ESPN 3D’s affiliates, Comcast and DirecTV currently do
not charge HD customers extra to receive ESPN 3D. Time Warner
Cable and U-verse TV both include ESPN 3D as part of a premium
3D programming tier for $10 per month extra. Verizon FiOS TV is to
add the network sometime in 2011.

Discovery, Sony and IMAX boasted that 3net will feature the
world’s largest library of native 3D television content. The network
had been operating under the placeholder name of 3DNet Co. LLC.

“3D is far more than a science-fiction gimmick,” Sony president
and CEO Sir Howard Stringer said at the company’s press conference
last week. “3D mirrors the experience of the world itself.”

Discovery founder and chairman John Hendricks compared the
forthcoming 3D network to the cable programmer’s commitment to
HD over the past decade. In the same way, “3net takes that commitment
to the next level for consumers, affiliates and advertisers
with the closest to real-life experience that TV has to offer — 3D,”
Hendricks said in a statement.

The 3net partners announced additional exclusive programming,
including the original series Experience 3D (working title), described
as a “fast-paced, hour-long thrill ride” that takes viewers “behind
the wheel, into the sky, across the seas and more on this oncein-
a-lifetime journey featuring some of the wildest experiences life
has to offer.” The series is being produced in native 3D by Arena
Films.

TV makers need the content pipeline to grow in order to drive
sales of 3D-capable sets, which remained a focus for many.

Sony, for one, has 16 new 3D-capable models in its 2011 line
of Bravia LCD HDTVs. At CES, Sony showed three pre-production
models of autostereoscopic, glasses-free 3D televisions — 24.5-,
46- and 56-inch models. The company also has worked up prototypes
of a head-mounted 3D display and a portable 3D DVD player
that requires no glasses.

Vizio, for its part, highlighted “Theater 3D” sets that use polarized
glasses, available on select models in the E and M series and
on the entire XVT series.

Stringer, underscoring Sony’s commitment to 3D, said Sony Pictures
Entertainment has a full slate of three-dimensional theatrical
releases set for 2011, including The Green Hornet, Men in Black 3,
The Smurfs and Spider-Man in 3D.

Stringer alluded to past innovations in TV technology, including
color TV and HD, pointing out that “those were greeted with initial
skepticism.”

October